What Is A Good ACT Score?

What is a good ACT score?  Are my scores good enough?  How important are ACT scores anyway?

If you’re a high school student who’s preparing to go to college, chances are you’ve asked yourself one of the above questions regarding the ACT.  Let’s tackle the last question first, and then I’ll go into the other ones.

How important are my ACT scores anyway?

A high school student should never underestimate the importance of their ACT scores.  A good ACT score will definitely help you get accepted into a wide variety of schools.  Standardized test scores give the college admissions committee a great tool to be able to compare applicants.

For example, which student’s extracurricular activity is more valuable?

Student A: Honors student who studied abroad in Spain for 3 months

Student B: Honors student who developed school newspaper

 Tough decision, don’t you think?  What about this example:

Student A: Honors student who studied abroad in Spain for 3 months; ACT Score = 31

Student B: Honors student who developed school newspaper; ACT Score = 27

Now, which student’s profile is better based on the updated information?  Of course, Student A’s ACT score is indisputably better than Student B.

However, it’s good to keep in mind that the admissions committee will consider the full picture (i.e. standardized test scores, GPA, extracurricular activities, letters of recommendation, etc.) when making their final admissions decision.

What is a good ACT score? 

Most schools will make their average ACT scores accessible to students via their website.  So, if you’re interested in a particular school, your first stop should be on their particular website.  If you’re having difficulty locating this information, I’d call the school’s admissions officer,  talk with your school counselor, and/or try the following sites:

In general, the ACT consists of 4 parts: English, Reading, Math, & Science.  You can score up to a 36 on each category.  Each individual score is averaged together to get your “composite score.”  The average “composite” score is a 20.  If you score between 34 and 36, you are among the top 1% of students who take the exam.

Here’s a chart of composite ACT scores for Ivy League Schools & Top Colleges for the middle 50% of admitted students according to About.com.

What ACT score should I aim for?

You can earn up to a 36 on the ACT exam. In 2011, the national average on the ACT exam was 21.1. This average score consisted of the following components:

  • English – 20.6
  • Math – 21.1
  • Reading – 21.3
  • Science – 20.9

As stated above, the average ACT score of students admitted to specific colleges can be found either on their website or by utilizing the websites mentioned above.

Only 1% of students score between a 34 and 36. So, what does this mean?

  • Most Ivy League schools require applicants to score in the 90th percentile, which is an average score of around 28.
  • Most Public universities require at least an 18.

To be safe, you should try to aim for an ACT score in the top 50% (above the national average score of 21.1) Some colleges and universities will require applicants to score in the top 25% or higher, it all depends on the school

If you rank in the top 25%, you’ll have even more options! So, how can you do this?…You can rank in the top 25% by earn an ACT score of 24.1 at public colleges and 25.3 at private colleges.

When should I take the ACT? 

Similar to the SAT, most high school students take the exam during the spring of their Junior year.  By this time, you will have most likely completed all the necessary coursework in your classes to do well on this exam.  Also, this will give you the opportunity to re-take the exam if you didn’t get the score that you wanted the first time around.  Click here to find out when test dates are being offered in your area. 

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Lauren Anderson is a certified school counselor who's passionate about helping students all over the world successfully transition from high school to college! After spending 6 years as a business professional, she obtained her Master’s degree in School Counseling and now spends her spare time helping students.

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